Forecast: 'Hunger Games' Sequel to Set Record Books on 'Fire'
Friday Update: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire opened to a massive $70.5 million on Friday, which is a bit ahead of the first movie's $67.3 million opening day. Overall, it ranks seventh all-time. For the weekend, it's now guaranteed to earn at least $145 million, and could make it as high as $160 million.

Forecast: This weekend, Katniss Everdeen steps back in to the box office arena with Catching Fire, the sequel to 2012 sensation The Hunger Games. With a more aggressive marketing campaign and an expanded fanbase, it's practically a foregone conclusion at this point that Catching Fire will top the original's $152 million opening—though it's unclear if it's even possible to go much higher.

Ahead of the release of the first movie, it already seemed like Suzanne Collins' young-adult book franchise was on track to become as big as Twilight or Harry Potter. Still, The Hunger Games exceeded sky-high expectations when it opened to $152.5 million, which at the time was the third-highest debut ever. With strong reviews and good word-of-mouth, the movie held well from there, and ended its run with $408 million—that currently ranks 14th all-time, and is higher than any of the Twilight or Harry Potter movies.

In the 20 months since The Hunger Games reached theaters, plenty of people have discovered the movie at home, and millions of additional copies of the books have been sold. Also, Jennifer Lawrence's star has risen thanks in part to a Best Actress win at the Oscars last year (for her performance in Silver Linings Playbook).

Even with such a rabid fanbase, Lionsgate's marketing hasn't rested on its laurels. The advertising blitz is focused on raising the stakes for Katniss, whose actions during the first movie have inadvertently sowed the seeds of revolution in Panem. Also, to distinguish Catching Fire from its predecessor, Lionsgate has opted to show footage from inside the arena; the lush tropical setting is at least slightly different from the first movie's forest locale.

With an expanded fanbase and strong marketing, it's reasonable to assume that Catching Fire can open higher than The Hunger Games. Unfortunately, without a change in ticket pricing (Catching Fire is once again in 2D only), it's tough to open significantly higher than $152 million—the current 2D-only opening weekend record belongs to last July's The Dark Knight Rises at $160.9 million. One benefit the movie has is its countless Thursday night showings, which should account for a minimum of $30 million. Thanks to that burn-off, there should be enough theater availability on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to fill demand. Ultimately, an opening north of $160 million seems like a safe bet.

With another new movie (Delivery Man) and a few solid holdovers (Thor: The Dark World and The Best Man Holiday), this will be one of the biggest weekends ever at the box office. The current record was set on Dec. 25-27, 2009 when the Top 12 earned $259.9 million.

While Catching Fire may not be able to expand significantly on The Hunger Games at the domestic box office, it should do much stronger business overseas. The first movie earned a decent $283.2 million from foreign markets, which only accounted for 41 percent of its worldwide total—typically, big-budget movies do at least 55 percent of their business outside of the U.S. Over the last year, though, the fanbase has grown significantly, and Lionsgate's marketing has been geared towards foreign expansion.

Catching Fire opened early in Brazil and took in roughly twice as much as the first movie. It expands in to major markets like the U.K., Australia, Germany, Spain, China, South Korea, Russia and Mexico this weekend, and should earn at least $100 million by Sunday.

Opening at 3,036 locations, Delivery Man hopes to serve as counterprogramming against Catching Fire. While it may seem like that's insurmountable competition, opening against a major movie isn't a guaranteed death sentence: The Blind Side scored $34.1 million against The Twilight Saga: New Moon, while Mamma Mia! took in $27.7 million against The Dark Knight.

Still, it's unlikely that Delivery Man makes it that high. While its premise has been clearly articulated, the idea of a sperm donor having 533 children isn't necessarily all that appealing. Beyond that, this looks like the Vince Vaughn show, and Vaughn has been struggling a bit lately at the box office. The Internship and The Dilemma opened to $17.3 million and $17.8 million, respectively, and in each of those Vaughn had strong support (Owen Wilson/Kevin James). At this point, it would be a surprise if Delivery Man could reach that level.

After earning $3.5 million over three weeks of limited release, Dallas Buyers Club expands nationwide in to 666 locations this weekend. Meanwhile, The Christmas Candle—the first movie produced by former U.S. senator Rick Santorum—expands in to around 400 locations after a solid limited debut.

The Weinstein Company releases Philomena in four locations, while Disney releases animated movie in to one theater (the El Capitan in Hollywood) ahead of its nationwide debut on Wednesday.

Forecast (Nov. 22-24)

1. Catching Fire - $167 million

2. Thor 2 - $15.7 million (-57%)

3. Best Man Holiday - $15.5 million (-49%)

4. Delivery Man - $13.7 million

Bar for Success

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire needs to at least match the original movie's $152 million debut. Meanwhile, Delivery Man is in fine shape if it can get to $15 million this weekend.

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